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Wednesday 24th May 2017

Last week I covered some of the bigger fish in the free agent pond, and the next day Ben Bishop signed a six-year deal with Dallas. If the Stars can play at a 2016 level instead of the 2017 disaster, the Bishop-fueled team may get back into the playoffs.

There are a few more Unrestricted Free-Agents I wanted to mention, and some of the more intriguing Restricted Free-Agents as well. And, I’m not even going to speculate on wheter these players are retained or cut loose in the upcoming Expansion Draft: we can try to make sense of that after the pieces land

Patrick Marleau (Center, Unrestricted Free Agent): "Will this lifelong Shark be back come July 1st?" is the question. With a previous cap hit of $6.6 million per year, the Sharks may be able to keep the band together with close to $15 million in current cap space with Marleau and Joe Thornton UFAs. I don't see the Sharks paying two 37-year old players much more than four or five million tops, unless it’s a one-year deal at maybe $6 million for one more push at the Cup. I'll be keeping all ears to the pavement, waiting to hear what the Sharks are thinking.

Karl Alzner (Defenseman, UFA): Washington has to change something after being bounced in the second round for a third straight year. Do the Caps shoot their load on Kevin Shattenkirk, since this is his best chance at winning a Cup? Alzner’s previous cap hit was only $2.8 million, and he won’t be commanding the Shattenkirk numbers come contract time. As the fifth overall selection in the 2007 draft, Alzner is now just into his defensive prime. As I mentioned last week, the Caps have T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Alzner as UFA’s, and Evgeny Kuznetsov is Restricted and will get a hefty pay raise. I see the Caps offering Karl a decent contract, but nothing more than $4 million a year, but as a lock defenseman many other teams will be looking to add that ability to propel their Cup aspirations.

Thomas Vanek (LW/RW, UFA): Vanek put together a very nice season after being bought out in Minnesota the year prior. And, his stock as a secondary scoring threat has put him on the map of relevance again. Many teams will be vying for Vanek's services come July 1st, though the Left Wing has said he would like to remain in Detroi. As a Detroit fan, I see Vanek drawing plenty of interest, so I hope he returns. If not, Buffalo is a good fit.

Kris Russell (Defenseman, UFA): Russell signed late when Edmonton took a chance and the defenseman played very well in Alberta as a lock-down, second-pair defenseman. I think Russell will take a team friendly contract to remain in Edmonton after the great playoff run the Oilers poured on this year, and wanting to be a part of something special will be the reason he stays on. With only a $3.1 million dollar cap hit on his one year deal, I expect a marginal raise for Russell, but it will be enough to keep him in Alberta. Like I said, there is something special happening in Edmonton with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Who would leave that chance of many playoff runs? The answer is "nobody," and I would expect the Oilers to make a run at Shattenkirk as well.

Don't forget to follow me @polkapat.

With the conference finals beginning soon, and the huge elephant in the Capitals dressing room finally leaving, it’s time to start planning for next season. There is a slew of Unrestricted Free Agents and some stud Restricted Free Agents as well, while the restricted free agent list is way more intriguing than the unrestricted. I’ll cover the UFA’s now and mention the rest in later articles, so let’s break down what’s on the shopping list for July 1.

Kevin Shattenkirk (Defenseman, UFA): Shatt was traded at the deadline to Washington to be the player to get them over the hump. It failed. For the third year in a row, the Caps were unable to solve the puzzle of Penguins. Rumors galore have him landing in New York to play for the Rangers or even playing in the KHL. Fact is, nobody knows where he will end up signing, and every team is an option. I honestly think Dallas will be offering big dollars his way along with the Rangers, Capitals and Leafs. Wherever Kevin signs, it will be at a raise over what he has been making, but not as much as it could have been if Stanley Cup Champion was added to his business card.

Ben Bishop (Goalie, UFA): Big Ben was just traded to the Dallas Stars this week, but the million-dollar question is will he sign in Dallas? I mentioned in the fall that Dallas should have made an offer for him, but I was wrong. After a sub-par season by Bishop standards, Dallas only had to forfeit a fourth-round pick in this trade, which was a steal if Ben stays in Dallas. The Stars goaltending tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi were horrid, a gas can and lit matches every night out for a Dallas team who historically underachieved this season. While not on the wrong side of his prime years, Bishop is a huge improvement over those two turds. Dallas, Winnipeg and Calgary could all use a netminder like Big Ben.

T.J. Oshie (Center/Wing, UFA): Before the season, Oshie was in line for a nice contract this summer, but after putting up a career high in goals and points, a heftier pay raise is due. Of course, it would have been much higher had Stanley Cup Champion been added to his business card as well. I read one article that had Oshie signing in New Jersey, and I can see that. They need help everywhere and Oshie playing with Taylor Hall would be fun to watch.

Joe Thornton (Center, UFA): Playing the end of the regular season and the playoffs with a torn ACL and MCL put Jumbo in my bad-ass stratosphere. He is long in the tooth and coming back from those injuries and the successful surgery he has already had is a long road back, but Joe says he’ll be ready. One year removed from an 82-point season, Thornton is a beast who will contribute second or third line minutes as he enters his 20th professional season. With only seven goals and 50 points this past year, Jumbo will get at least five million dollars per year for a two or three year contract this summer.

Alexander Radulov (C/W, UFA): Coming back to the NHL after playing in the KHL-Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, Radulov signed a one-year, $5 million deal, and earned every penny of it. I see him staying in Montreal on whatever contract they offer him. He was well received by his teammates and the city loved his work ethic. Alexander will get more than a one-year tender this time, and he will help Shea Weber and Carey Price in their Stanley Cup quest.

Be sure to tune in next week when I cover more UFA’s and that tempting list of restricted free agents.

You can reach me @PolkaPat and read more of my rantings at Fighting Chance Sports.

The Washington Capitals are stacked and fully loaded for a deep Stanley Cup run, but this may be their last opportunity to contend for awhile, and of course they will need to get by the Pittsburgh Penguins. After winning another Presidents Trophy this season with a whopping 120 points, Washington has not missed a beat this year. They added the most impactful piece at the trade deadline in Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis and played lockdown defense, leading the NHL in goal differential. Is this the final year of the powerhouse Washington has rostered? We will explore that in this article, and see if there is any chance beyond this postseason for the Caps to keep the band together.

Free Agents

Kevin Shattenkirk was the biggest player moved at the trade deadline, and as Washington sits near the top of the salary cap ceiling, the Caps must decide if they can sign Shattenkirk. To keep Shatt in the mix in DC, they will have to let at least one of T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams or Karl Alzner walk as Unrestricted Free Agents on July 1. Meanwhile, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are all restricted free agents.

I honestly do not see T.J. Oshie coming back. After scoring a career-high 33 goals, he has played his way into a nice pay raise, and will bolt for greener pastures, greener as in cash.  Playing on the top line with the NHL’s fourth leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom and super sniper Alex Ovechkin has been the best thing to happen for Oshie as a Cap, and when he signs this new contract, he had better thank those two for helping him get it. At 30 years old, Oshie's skill level will slowly erode, but he has a few solid seasons left in those skates.

Justin Williams, the three-time Stanley Cup winner and now Mr. Game 7, will most likely not be back as well, especially if the Cup is not won by Washington. He will be 36 when next season begins, and unless it’s a one or two-year team friendly deal, Williams is gone.

Washington has a very solid and young set of defenders, and the way Nate Schmidt has played in these playoffs during Alzner’s absence, I can see the Caps letting Karl cash in elsewhere too, which would leave plenty of cap space to sign Shattenkirk to a long-term deal. Orlov and Schmidt will be staying put, and while the defensive corps is coming into their prime years, the same cannot be said for the key offensive players, minus Kuznetsov, who will be only 25 in a few weeks.

Key Players Age

The heart and soul of Washington for the last eleven years has been Alexander Ovechkin, and Ovi will be 32 when next season begins. While he is not going anywhere, plenty of studs from this multi-Presidents Trophy winning team will be. While Ovi’s numbers were down from last year, he still fires the puck more than any forward in the NHL, and he also has a few great seasons left in his skates. Ovi’s running mate all these years has been the silent killer, Nicklas Backstrom, who is also now on the wrong side of 30, well 30 exactly. While their skills will not drop off the earth tomorrow, these two will need to play extraordinary from now on as the Caps lose players to the cap crunch. Backstrom and Ovechkin will both be top- 15 fantasy picks next year and Kuznetsov will not get past round three, but this group is skating for their final chance at a Stanley Cup.

Last night, Washington dropped a 3-2 decision at home to their nemesis, Pittsburgh, and it has been Pittsburgh that has been the biggest thorn in Ovechkin’s side ever since he was drafted. I’m really hoping Ovi gets at least one Cup so the entire hockey world will quit questioning his leadership abilities. Now they have given away home ice and will have to battle to the end to squeak past the defending champions.

You can reach me @PolkaPat to talk anything hockey and be sure to also check me out at Fighting Chance Sports.

About five weeks ago, I ran a list of the biggest surprises and breakouts from this past NHL regular season. Now let us look at some of the biggest disappointments. This can be based on past stats not matching up to our expectations, or players not living up to their ADPs. Regardless of the reasons, this list of players will most likely be a bit cheaper in auction drafts or possibly fall a few rounds in snake drafts. Either way, we can hope that this list of players can right the ship for the next NHL season.
 
 Jamie Benn (LW, Dallas Stars): After back-to-back seasons with nearly 90 points (87 and 89), Benn really laid an egg this past season with a 69-point year. It wasn’t just him though. The Dallas Stars laid the biggest egg of all after winning the Western Conference last season with 109 points, recording a paltry 79 points. Look for Benn and crew to amp it up next season under new/old head coach Ken Hitchcock. Benn went from an early first rounder to a late first rounder, and possibly second rounder, but he will return to 80-plus points along with stud teammate Tyler Seguin, who just missed this list. 

Steven Stamkos (C, Tampa Bay Lightning): Another injury took down the Lightning super sniper, and cost plenty of fantasy players. He had 20 points in 18 games before he left for the year, and his draft stock will drop below that of teammate Nikita Kucherov. Stamkos will easily fall into the second round now, and possibly the third round.  High Risk/High Reward is a term that best suits Stamkos and his future in fantasy hockey drafts until he plays a few seasons without any health concerns.

Anze Kopitar (C, Los Angeles Kings): The Kings seem to be sliding down the wrong side of success, and need an offensive boost. Is that going to happen next season now that Darryl Sutter is out of the picture? I’m not so sure. The talent is there, but are the players content with the two Stanley Cups they’ve already won? A lot of questions for Kings nation to answer, but for Kopitar, his point total dropped 22 points this past year and the Kings didn’t even make the playoffs, which is unacceptable for a team with this much talent. Anze will have to lead the charge, and get his fantasy stock back up to where it belongs, and with all the love for the rookies, Kopitar will be drafted at a discount. I’d take him as high as the fourth round right now. The Kings lack secondary scoring, so Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli will have to carry the offensive load.

Aleksander Barkov (C, Florida Panthers): A life member to the Gimp List, Sasha has never played a full season in his very young NHL career, which is sad because he is an amazing player. Almost a point per game player when healthy, Barkov cashes in with his line mates Jonathan Huberdeau, another Gimp List candidate, and the ageless one, Jaromir Jagr. The Panthers were the other huge disappointment in the league this past season besides the Dallas Stars, with an 81-point year, after getting 103 points the years prior. Sasha only played in 61 games this time around after seasons of 66, 71, and 54 games played. Should Barkov ever put together a couple of full seasons, his draft stock would be in the first round. Barkov and line mate Huberdeau are both included in this paragraph, and once they both can show that they can stay healthy, the already used High Risk/High Reward tag goes on both of them. Fourth round at the highest is where either of these two should be drafted until they prove that they can play a full season, but drafting them there is going to be a steal if Barkov and Huberdeau do play 80 games. 
 
You can always reach me @PolkaPat to talk fantasy and read more of my rantings at Fighting Chance Sports.

The mighty Chicago Blackhawks have been eliminated from the 2017 NHL Playoffs after dropping four straight to the younger more aggressive Nashville Predators. The Minnesota Wild extended their series against the St. Louis Blues to a Game 5 with a 2-0 shutout in St. Louis. Anaheim put out the Flames Wednesday night, but after the Flames blew a 4-1 lead in Game 3, the series was really lost right there. Edmonton took a brutal pounding in Game 4 to even their series at two apiece. Then, last night, Edmonton pulled up their leggings and came back from a 3-1 hole to win in overtime to take a 3-2 lead in that Pacific Division titans clash. So, let’s break down the Western Conference here. 

Nashville put the Blackhawks away at home last night in Game 4 of their series. I’ve seen the Hawks come back from a 3-0 deficit to my Wings and will never count them out until the last whistle blows, but they are done this season. Lack of secondary scoring was a huge issue for Chicago. They have their superstars, but the rookies and role players didn’t show up, and their stars did not show up either. This 2017 Nashville team is not the Red Wings team that Chicago came back against, and most teams would kill to just have one or two of the Preds top four defensemen. 

Trading Shea Weber made the Predators younger all around, while his presence in Montreal coincides with Carey Price's prime years, so it was a win/win for both teams, as we are now seeing. Now think that Nashville has let walk or traded away Ryan Suter, Seth Jones and Shea Weber and they still dominate on the back end. That along with timely goals and watertight defense that has allowed only two goals to the second-best scoring differential team in the Western Conference. It will destroy all my brackets if the Hawks lose, but I had them going down to the Blues in the Conference Finals anyway, so we will see tonight what happens. Be assured though P.K Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and junior super scorer Ryan Ellis will be in the middle of the action in the next round as they were everywhere in this sweep of Chicago. Kudos to Nashville.

St. Louis is in a prime spot to take the Wild out of the playoffs as well, but Minnesota showed their teeth Wednesday night, finally. The Wild played the way they did throughout the season with shut down defense, lots of goals along with awesome net minding by should be Vezina winner Devan Dubnyk. Minnesota snuck only two goals behind St. Louis goalie Jake Allen, who has played excellent this series, and has been the Blues best player so far. He is the reason St. Louis is in position to put the Wild away for the season. I hope you’re seeing the theme here, great net minding and very solid defensive play, which isn’t the case in the East. St. Louis has depth and experience on the back end even after losing Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline. Alex Pietrangelo, the ageless defender, the swift-skating Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko make for some tough sledding for the Wild forwards.  

Anaheim took care of business last night up in Calgary and now awaits the winner of the San Jose/Edmonton matchup, which appears to be headed for seven games. The question on my mind is whether the Anaheim Ducks are the best team in the Western Conference. With superb goaltending from John Gibson and a stellar win in relief for Jonathan Bernier, the Ducks get to rest now, which is good for their older players up front. The defense for Anaheim is again playing tight and not allowing any second chances on rebounds. Eight times out of ten last night the Ducks cleared the front of the net so well that an elephant could have walked up to Gibson for a head of lettuce.  Captain Ryan Getzlaf led the Ducks on the offensive side with Rickard Rakell and young defenseman Shea Theodore registering five points each. Now with at least a week’s rest ahead, Anaheim can focus on their next assignment, and prepare for battle, but I still hate them. 

The Edmonton/San Jose series has been an absolute slugfest and a joy to watch. We have the salty dogs from last year's finals against the kids who are being led by Art Ross trophy winner Connor McDavid, who will undoubtedly be the number one pick in fantasy hockey drafts for the next decade. Now things shift back to San Jose for Game 6, where the Oilers hope to keep rolling in this excellent series. Game 4 was a wake-up call for both teams. It let Edmonton know that there’s plenty of game left in the Sharks, while also letting the Oilers know that there are no games off in the playoffs. It will be fun to watch more this weekend, when this old fart doesn’t have bedtime for work the next day. 

Be sure to talk hockey with me @PolkaPat and read about the Eastern Conference at Fighting Chance Sports.

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